Reuniting after 40 years

SaddleBrooke resident Marty Riegler, right, and her biological daughter Sue reunited after 40 years. Since 2009, the two have stayed in contact with each other and visit each other once or twice a year.

Courtesy Photo

On June 9, 2009, SaddleBrooke resident Marty Riegler had just returned from a cruise through the Mediterranean and was looking through her numerous backlogged emails when she got to one that brought tears to her eyes.

The email was sent from a woman Marty had met 41 years prior and spent a mere 45 minutes with. Since that time, she hadn’t seen, heard from or otherwise communicated with her.

The email was from Sue, her daughter, whom she put up for adoption in Maine in 1968.

The email was short and to the point – Sue was looking for her birth mother and believed it could possibly be her. Along with a few details of dates, times and locations, the email asked if she would be willing to reconnect.

A short time later, Marty replied.

“I said, ‘My life is an open book and I will answer any questions you have.’”

The chapter that started Sue’s life began in 1967 when Marty was working as a flight attendant – a job at the time where women had to sign a contract vowing to quit if they became married or pregnant.

She was almost 21 and met a man who she didn’t know to be married. After seeing the man for a short while, Marty became pregnant.

She was raised Catholic but had a pro-choice viewpoint. She told her supervisor that she was pregnant to which she was told she had a few options. One of the options offered was to have an abortion where she would “take a trip” to London where she would “vacation” for a few months. The other option would be to quit, have the baby and decide if she wanted to keep the child or have a family member adopt her. She could put the child up for a closed adoption where she would most likely never see or hear from her again.

Along with  the fact that her family was devastated that she was an un-wed and pregnant, Marty knew she wanted to have the baby. 

When Marty was almost six months pregnant, she contacted the father of their child and about a month later, she quit working.

The father offered to pay for all of her medical and hospital bills and at one point offered to adopt the child. 

“He already had four children and I couldn’t see my child going into that family and being as loved as their children. But I thought it was a generous gesture for his wife to do that, though.”

Marty’s parents offered to adopt her child, but she was the oldest of five children who all lived in a house with an alcoholic father and a mother who was becoming one. One of her brothers was in an accident and became a quadriplegic around the same time. Her parents weren’t coping well with everything. She didn’t want to put her child in the same environment that she and her siblings were dealing with.

Growing up and at the time, she was very close with her grandparents and lived with them during the last few months of her pregnancy and for a few weeks after the birth. They also offered to adopt her child. 

“They were devastated by all of this and it saddened them that they weren’t going to have their great-grandchild around. And they knew how bad the situation was at home, with my parents,” Marty said.

Marty knew at that point she only had two years of college, had a decent job but wasn’t going to be able to keep it if she kept the baby. She felt the best thing for the child was to make sure she had a good home. 

She had an aunt and uncle who also offered to adopt her daughter. 

With a sigh and almost a realization, she said, “I didn’t want her exposed to the family. My whole family was so dysfunctional. It wasn’t a wholesome environment. My aunt and uncle were wonderful people. But seeing her would be very, very difficult for me – very difficult.”

She simply wanted what was best for the child, and Marty believed that the best thing for her daughter would to not be a part of her life.

She set up parameters for the adoptive parents ranging from employment to household income – all to the point where she felt comfortable with her decision.

Throughout the pregnancy, Marty talked with her child who she felt was girl. On a regular basis, she told her how sorry she was that they weren’t going to be together. 

On May  27, 1968, her daughter was born. She spent a less than 45 minutes with her. She held her, told her she loved her and hoped she would see her again. After the birth and after she and her child were separated, she had one emotion.

“It was gut wrenching. It was gut wrenching to let go.”


Forty years later

Five years ago, the state of Maine opened its adoption records. For years Sue’s parents had encouraged her to search for her birth mother. For her 40th birthday, and with the release of the adoption records, she began her search for Marty.

In the meantime, over the 40-year span of Sue’s life, Marty had often thought of her daughter – wondered how she was doing and what her life had been like – and hoped it was better than the life she had growing up.

Marty had a brief marriage when she was younger and then later found her current husband Ric at 37. He brought his son to the family when they were married, but Sue was the only child Marty had given birth to.

A little more than a year after Sue began her casual search for her birth mother, she found her through the obituary of her biological grandmother (Marty’s mother), which mentioned her name as someone she was survived by. The name matched a name within the SaddleBrooke art guild, and after a few emails, Sue got the email address to her birth mother.

In September of 2009, the two met, along with many family members who also wanted to be present for the reunion. It was then that Marty’s heart was reassured she had made the right choice for her daughter. She learned of Sue’s happy upbringing. Sue’s parents brought with them four photo albums that showed all the moments spanning infancy all the way through college.

“They were the most incredible people,” Marty said. “They are awesome. She couldn’t have had better people for parents. I was so overwhelmed emotionally by how good they were and how loving they were, and their acceptance of me. I felt like I was a member of the family. They made me feel like a member of the family.”

She got to see the house her daughter grew up in and learn the stories of her upbringing.

“I feel so grateful. I felt all of my wishes had been honored and that she had the life that I wanted for her.”

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